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Asp & Venom


Upstairs in the kitchen, a small girl
holds a viper straight against the table
so her father can slit its belly and drain the blood.
On assignment in this Vietnamese restaurant
I photograph the locals, ceramic dishes
painted in batik patterns, fires in the kitchen,
and bottles of rice wine in the basement

infused with snakes and lizards and snake eggs.
The menu reads: snake blood vodka, snake heart shot,
cures for pain, supplements for virility.
Lizards lie vertically, feet tucked
at the bottom of the glass, throat to throat,
a bracelet strung tight. Snakes coil
like baskets in their jars and eggs sit heavy
in their shells, a couple dozen stones
with still hearts.


That apothecary of bodies remains with me,
as I sit next to my husband
quiet in his bed, chemo in his veins,
and I know I’ll take anything—

a church steeple standing between stars,
holy water and incense, the laying of hands,

or vials of medicine, white hospital corridors,
charts and monitors, a constellation of signs,
or that cobra in his glass bottle,
hood flexed wide, body risen like a ghost,

I’ll take anything. That he may continue
on, in a time and place away from me,
is a comfort like a boarded up window,
a train lying on its side in the grass.

Kassandra Montag grew up in rural Nebraska and now lives in Omaha where she raises her two sons. Her debut novel is After the Flood.